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The protesters who took to the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities last night are to be congratulated on a significant victory.

Few people imagined that after the violent police crackdown on Sao Paulo’s protesters last Thursday an even greater number would come out in sympathy just four days later.

But they did just that and across Brazil hundreds of thousands of people, most of them peacefully, expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Exactly how many people took part in the protests is impossible to know. But estimates suggest 65,000 people took to the streets of Sao Paulo, almost twice that in Rio and smaller, but still considerable, numbers made their presence felt in Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Porto Alegre and dozens of other towns and cities.

The big question is what happens now. The protesters have the wind at their backs, so what will they do? They have called another march (in SP at least) for Tuesday night. Will they call more? Enter in to talks with authorities? As yet no one knows.

A lot of that depends on exactly what they want.

The unrest was originally sparked by a hike in bus fares and many of the protesters come from the Free Fare Movement, a group that wants free public transport for all. That’s an unreal demand. No serious country provides all its citizens with free public transport.

But since then the demonstration has expanded to include broader issues. One major complaint is the cost of hosting the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, the second of which kicked off in six Brazilian cities on Saturday.

The government is spending more than $3 billion on stadiums, some of them obvious white elephants but it hasn’t carried out many of the essential public transportation projects it promised.

One of the challenges facing the movement’s leaders is articulating a message beyond that of, ‘We want better treatment and more rights.’ And until they do that it will struggle to achieve anything concrete.

Anyone who has spent any time in Brazil knows that people are treated abysmally. As I said here last week, Brazilians pay first world taxes and get third world services. No one respects no one. Complaining is futile and the deck is heavily stacked against anyone who raises their voice in anger. (Which is one of the reasons a more generalized outrage hasn’t taken hold until now.)

Brazil deserves great credit for lifting 40 million people out of poverty over the last decade. But ironically, that class of newly enfranchised people might be a cause of the unrest.

–          More people can afford to buy cars and hundreds of new cars pour onto the streets of Sao Paulo each day. But the government hasn’t invested in infrastructure like roads or highways and public transport is underfunded and inefficient and an unappealing alternative.

–          More people can afford health insurance but the companies selling them not only provide a risible coverage, they fight tooth and nail to stop their clients from getting the treatment they are paying for, sometimes with tragic consequences.

–          More people have cable television but just try calling up and complaining about the service or trying to cancel it. The companies sadistically force their clients to jump through online hoops in order to hold them to costly contracts.

–          More people have cell phones and Brazilians pay some of the highest rates in the world. But calls frequently cut out, the signal is patchy, and after sales service is a joke.

–          More people have banks accounts but banks charge abusive interest rates – 237 % a year for credit cards – and they sneak additional charges onto bills, and treat customers more like waling wallets than valued customers.

–          Education is a joke. A tragic joke.

In short, there are lots of reasons why Brazilians should be angry.

The other big question is how politicians will deal with the crisis. What possible answers can they provide? Not only are they discredited, they cannot hope to provide quick solutions to resolve long-standing infrastructure issues.

They are in bed with the multinationals and conglomerates whose consistent mistreatment of and disdain for their customers is a complaint I hear every single day from Brazilians.

It is hard to see how they can provide quick and satisfactory answers to the questions above.

And last but not least, Are Brazilians going to see this through to the end?

Brazil is not a politicised society nor one where memories are long or protests lasting. In neighbouring Argentina, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to protest graft and they do it again and again and again.

Brazil’s media will play up the violence and they will play up the fear. If political parties try to hijack the movement it will lose its credibility. The middle class must get involved and stay involved.

If Brazilians really want to see change they will need stamina and resolve. They may have to shout themselves hoarse over and over and over again. If this is really going to turn into something lasting then Monday night is not the end. It is only the beginning.

riquelmeAfter months of speculation, Palmeiras are reportedly closing in on signing Juan Roman Riquelme.

For the sake of both the player and the club I hope the deal doesn’t go through.

Palmeiras will play in the second division this year but have also qualified for the Copa Libertadores. They need a big squad with players who can perform over what will be a long and grueling campaign and who will stand up and be counted.

Riquelme is 34 and hasn’t played professional football since July when he fell out with Boca Juniors.

He is clearly not a player who will be able, much less willing given his attitude over the years, to put his heart and soul into every game. He has a history of clashing with teammates and managers throughout his glorious career. He is certainly not a player you build your team around.

Not because he isn’t talented. Fewer Argentines have shown as much deftness with a ball at their feet that mercurial No. 10.

But Palmeiras need a leader, with experience, character and stamina.

That the club’s directors think Riquelme is that man goes a long way to explaining how they’ve driven the club into the ground over the last 10 years.

Fluminense stars Fred and Diego Cavalieri got a just reward for their fine performances in helping Flu win the Brazilian league today by being called up to the Brazil team to face Argentina at La Bombonera on Nov. 21.

The match was hastily rescheduled after last month’s encounter was postponed because of a floodlight failure.

Only home-based players are chosen for the game and the Fluminense pair are not the only surprises in Mano Menezes’ squad.

Botafogo midfielder Fellype Gabriel wins a first call up, as does Durval, Santos’ 32-year old centre half.

The squad contains five players from Fluminense, four from Atletico Mineiro and three each from Corinthians and Santos.

The full list

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo) and Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense).

Full backs: Marcos Rocha (Atlético-MG), Lucas Marques (Botafogo), Carlinhos (Fluminense) and Fábio Santos (Corinthians).

Central defenders: Réver (Atlético-MG), Durval (Santos) and Leonardo Silva (Atlético-MG).

Defensive midfielders: Arouca (Santos), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jean (Fluminense) and Ralf (Corinthians).

Attacking midfielders: Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Bernard (Atlético-MG) and Fellype Gabriel (Botafogo).

Forwards: Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damião (Internacional) and Fred (Fluminense)

 

Does this picture look familiar and disturbing at the same time?

It did to me.

The picture is a mix of Pele and Diego Maradona and was reportedly put together by an Ecuadoran glue company.

The company said their glue is so strong it can unite even Pele and Maradona. (Although strangely, the campaign seems to have attracted more attention in Brazil than anywhere else; I can’t find any reference to it in Spanish.)

Pele and Maradona have been united before, most notably on Maradona’s short-lived television chat show – but never for long.

It would take more than glue – or a clever advertising campaign – to stop these two sniping over who is the best player the world has ever seen.

 

One of the biggest football matches of the year takes place in Sao Paulo tonight when Corinthians face up to Boca Juniors in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final.

Corinthians have never won the trophy, South America’s version of the Champions League, and they are desperate to do so, as I said here in May.

If they win, they can finally shake off their unwanted tag as the only one of the state’s top four clubs not to have lifted the famous cup.

(That’s a young me on the left lifting it in Paraguay in 2002 when I interviewed Nery Pumpido, coach of then holders Olimpia.)

Tonight’s match promises to be a tense affair between two teams who are not know for their flair or creativity (Riquelme aside).

There’s probably too much at stake for it to be an attractive football match.

Corinthians are favourites because they have home advantage and because they are hard to score against. But if anyone can beat them it’s Boca, one of the most experienced teams not just in Latin America, but in the world.

Corinthians must not only guard against overconfidence, but they must also work hard to focus only on the field of play. Corintianos are rightly known for their passion and unstinting support but if their team struggles the pressure will mount and that could be telling.

Here‘s the match preview I wrote yesterday for Reuters.

  Ten days ago, only the most fanatical Corinthians fans knew who Romarinho was. Today, he is a hero.

The 21-year old striker made his starting debut two weekends ago in the local derby against Corinthians’ arch-rivals Palmeiras, scoring twice to help the club to a 2-1 win.

Three days later he came off the bench in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final in Buenos Aires and grabbed the goal that brought his side level 1-1 with Boca Juniors.

That goal has made Corinthians favourites to lift their first ever Libertadores trophy when the sides line up for the return leg in Sao Paulo’s Pacaembu stadium on Wednesday.

Corinthians are in the final for the first time, while Boca are in their tenth, seeking a seventh win that would bring them alongside fellow Argentines Independiente as the most successful team in the competition.

However, while Boca have the experience, Corinthians have the form.

They are unbeaten in the tournament so far and have conceded just four goals in their 13 matches.

For all that, they still have trouble scoring and have drawn uncomplimentary comparisons with Chelsea, who beat attack-minded Barcelona and Bayern Munich on their way to winning the Champions League this year.

Like the Londoners, Corinthians put organisation ahead of flair and like to pack players behind the ball.

Romarinho could be the answer to their goalscoring problems.

The youngster fulfills all the requisites of a Brazilian footballing hero. Son of a poor family whose father cut sugar cane for a living, he was rejected by several top teams before finally coming good at lowly Bragantino.

Corinthians snapped him up last month after he scored six goals in 23 games in the Paulista State Championship earlier this year.

Although his name means little Romario, he is not related to the former Brazil striker turned federal Congressman, even if he reportedly shares the same penchant for nightlife and killer instinct in front of goal.

“Romarinho is cool, he’s ice cold, and he had already showed that in the game against Palmeiras,” coach Tite said after the Boca Juniors match.

“He’s deadly, you just have to give him the ball in the last third of the field to let him do what he knows how.”

Both teams will be at full strength for Wednesday’s decider. Boca Juniors did not play at the weekend because the Argentina Clausura tournament is over, while Corinthians’ match against Botafogo was postponed to allow the team to prepare.

I’ve been a bit lax with posting the last week or so. The World Cup has taken up most of my time.

I’ve been writing set up pieces and match reports on the Brazil and Argentina games for the Christian Science Monitor, which has a surprisingly good blog here.

Here’s my piece from today on Brazil’s impressive 3-0 win over Chile.

And here’s my piece on Brazil’s opening group and the nonsense of calling it the Group of Death.

I’ll post more as they happen.

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